Gaurav for my Devi: Navratra Musings

A while ago, I had a conversation with an acquaintance of a different religion, who remarked “God cannot possibly be a woman”. I really wasn’t prepared for this, but something immediately started boiling inside me. I couldn’t find the appropriate words in that moment, so I retorted, “maybe in your religion, but not mine”. The anger of that moment, though, peaked long after that conversation was over. In a way, I was angry at myself. “If  I had had any sense I would have forced him to apologize for offending my religious beliefs”, my train of thought continued, “Why am I so naive?!”. It was in that moment that I decided to never let anyone degrade Devi in my presence. 

But this incident, in fact, led me to think deeper about my relationship with Sanatan Dharma, as well as my relationship with the feminine in both its spiritual and physical sense. I was actually baffled at that person’s comment, it is after all, a woman that brings you into this world, a mother is the child’s world! So if that isn’t divine, I honestly do not know what is. Even today, I struggle with to understand how is it that some people can only see divinity as male, as if it is only a man that is worthy of worship while  a woman is seen as something to be ashamed of. 

Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva seated on lotuses with their consorts, Saraswati, Lakshmi and Paravati respectively. ca 1770. Guler, India. Source:  Wikipedia

Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva seated on lotuses with their consorts, Saraswati, Lakshmi and Paravati respectively. ca 1770. Guler, India. Source: Wikipedia

Our shastras impart knowledge with a different outlook in relation to what my high school English teacher called “the woman question” - that is, the question of what to do with our women. From an early age, I was taught that Venkateswara is nothing without Lakshmi, as depicted in the story of the Tirumala Venkateswara Swamy. The depiction of our Gods highlight the complementarity of the Divine Masculine and the Divine Feminine. The three Gods, also known as the Trimurti which comprise of Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh (Shiva) represent creation, sustenance and destruction whereas the Goddesses, Saraswati, Laxmi and Parvati knowledge, prosperity and motherly benevolence. Furthermore, they are paired so beautifully together, that it leads to a natural appreciation of the importance of the feminine. After all, there is no creation of value if it is not done with wisdom; one cannot sustain themselves if they do not prosper; and destruction could end creation without the guiding light of a mother’s compassion. Even as we pray to  Vishnu and Shiva, we remember the Divine Feminine of Shri and Shakti with them. 

This led me to question why it is that in today’s world of political correctness, someone would dare make a statement of that sort about my religion, and my way of life. This made me wonder whether I was voca enough about my own beliefs, which inspired me to analyze the way Hindus react and interact with the world around them. A very important aspect of a people’s identity is whether they are a proud people.

This pride, or gaurav, comes from an inherent knowledge of one’s identity, and one’s history, the struggles one’s people have faced and the tribulations they have overcome.

This gaurav neither appears nor disappears overnight. It is either accumulated through years of activism or stamped out through years of subjugation to the “white man’s burden” mindset. For too long, Hindus have allowed the fairest of the world to teach them their own barbaric ways, and have then been taught practices that were (re)discovered and have existed for as long as the vedas and the rishis have.

As worshippers of Devi Saraswati, it is shameful that all of our knowledge has been pilfered from our people and is being fed back to us in a white-washed, clean package.

Turmeric Latte is now sold at Starbucks in US and Europe. Image Source:  Starbucks

Turmeric Latte is now sold at Starbucks in US and Europe. Image Source: Starbucks

The clearest example being the rise of turmeric or haldi-based beverages being popularized in the suburban American market. Why must it always be America or Europe who reinstall our faith in our own traditional knowledge? Why is it that the only way for indigenous faiths to get credit for our knowledge, is only through prolonged, intense, ugly fighting? I mean, this is a problem we’ve had since ancient times! Our modern day numerical system should be called the Hindu Number System, but it is commonly known as Arabic Number System. Why? Why must the Hindu adjective be dropped? Some claim that this is a result of the credit going to those who propagate the knowledge or the product and not those who create it. So then, by the same logic, we should be thanking Office Depot, not China, for the invention of paper, and Kroger, not farmers, for the produce that we eat everyday? This notion is as absurd as it sounds, but we Hindus, are now used to absurd arguments being peddled out to us, just so we can be robbed of our knowledge, while the world can continue ignoring the word “Hindu” from the name of our numerical system.

However, if you furthered this argument in any setting, you would immediately be stamped with some political label which will be compared to fascism. Why is it that we Hindus are not allowed to be proponents of our own knowledge? But more importantly, why don’t most Hindus push back? Are we really that scared of showing Maa Saraswati’s genius to the world? Are we afraid of being laughed at? Scores of scientists and linguists and philosophers were ridiculed for decades before proven correct by later generations. What are we Hindus waiting for? We must learn once again, to have gaurav for all of the toils our ancestors went through to seek the kind of knowledge we take for granted.

It is a disgrace to Devi Saraswati to let others take credit for and preach ideas and practices that our great culture has granted to us.

Moreover, it is disrespectful to ourselves to allow western consumerism to steal our ancient wisdom for profits. As a society, we cannot give into the modern white man’s burden anymore. Our ancestors had so much wisdom, and we are on the brink of losing it all. Kali yuga, to me, not only means a growth of evil, but the demise of knowledge and the growth of ignorance.

This Navratri, I would urge you all to please educate yourselves and your children about the wonders of our culture and the complexity with which we choose to explain our multidimensional world.

Our religion and worldview is not reductionist, like most religions, but an advocate of different thoughts, spiritual practices and most importantly, an accumulation of knowledge accrued over millennia.

It is high time we held ourselves accountable, if not for our own sakes, for our Devis - for they represent all that is sacred in the world and if we can’t respect them by respecting ourselves and our great heritage, our lives won’t amount to anything.

I refuse to be the last Hindu generation, and I refuse to let Maa Saraswati down by forgetting everything she has taught us. 

There are so many modern - day incarnations of shakti keeping the flame of Hinduism alive, that it is becoming hard to count, and that, to me, is the most garvakaran there is. Today, there are authors who write the tales of young and old Hindus, about their adventures, loves and thoughts. We are slowly learning to embrace our culture again, through the age old way - stories. Stories have the power to impart knowledge without a lecture, and they become a crutch in times of need. Our Hindu authors of today are reminding Hindu women of the shakti they possess within themselves through the stories of Draupadi, Aru Shah (a fictitious character who goes on adventures with the Hindu gods and goddesses at her side), Sita and many more.

A grandmother with granddaughter, India.  Image Credits :  Nithi Anand, Flickr

A grandmother with granddaughter, India.
Image Credits : Nithi Anand, Flickr

However, the biggest upholders of our ancient knowledge are the elderly within each family. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have grown up hearing the tales of the Pancatantra, the Ramayana, Mahabharata and many other puranas from grandparents on both sides. Grandparents carry so much wisdom within them, and you generally do not realize it until it is too late to thank them for imparting their knowledge so generously. My Ammamma (my mother’s mother) knew about the secret of the book “The Secret”, before even the author did, I’m sure. When I was younger, my Ammamma taught me that all I should do, if I am ever in need of help, is ask. She taught me that “yaa devi sarva bhuteshu” can be my call to the universe. When I was younger, I used to think that practicing Sanathan Dharma makes one’s life perfect, but I have since understood that practicing Sanathan Dharma gives one the strength to succeed in an imperfect world. My Ammamma taught me that asking for help shows that you have strength. I never understood the importance of this sloka until I came to college, away from my family, and away from my mother. In times of stress, I call out to my Devi and ask for strength. Let us all repeat to ourselves today:

yaa devi sarva bhuteshu, shakti rupena samsthithaa

namastasyai, namastasyai , namastasyai namo namah

(Hey Devi you pervade all creation, in all living and unliving things, in all aspects of creation, in the form of Shakti. I bow to thee, I bow to thee, I bow to thee, mother!)

This one sloka has helped me understand that the Devi is my Divine  Mother, and she will take care of me even when I am far away from the  Devi incarnate, my own mother. This Navratri, I want to take the time to appreciate all of the shaktis and devis in my own life, as well as the Mahadevi herself, in all her glory. 

From my family to yours, Navratri Subhakankshalu!

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Krishna Sarvani Desabhotla

Krishna Sarvani “Vani” Desabhotla is a sophomore Honors Biomedical Engineering student at the University of Houston. She is from The Woodlands, TX, and she loves to frequently visit home to catch up with her family and eat lovely home-cooked Indian food. Hinduism, to her, means having gratitude for everything in the universe and doing good. She hopes to live in a world in which the practice of bringing back ancient Hindu wisdom becomes commonplace.